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Behind BJP’s choice of Dhankhar: his gloves-off fights with Mamata, upper-caste tag

Dhankhar's nomination could placate a section in the Sangh that has been uncomfortable with the BJP's aggressive outreach to Dalits, OBCs

Dhankhar has been chosen as the BJP-led NDA's candidate for vice-presidential elections in 2022. (PTI Photo)

His persistent wrangles with the Trinamool Congress — seen as a strong pushback to the “confrontational politics” of the ruling party in West Bengal — combined with the RSS’s backing for him led to the BJP choosing Jagdeep Dhankhar as its candidate for the August 6 vice-presidential election.

Party sources said Dhankhar — a lawyer by training and the national convener of the BJP’s law and legal affairs department in 2016 — has in the past “extended solid support both politically and through legal advice and assistance” to the BJP, RSS and its affiliates.

The nomination of Dhankhar, who is from the socially and politically dominant Jat community of Rajasthan, could placate a section in the Sangh Parivar that has been increasingly uncomfortable with the BJP leadership’s aggressive outreach to Dalits, OBCs and other backward communities. “Several leaders from the Parivar have conveyed to the party leaders that it’s the time for the party to pitch for an agada (member of a forward caste),” said a party source.

Since coming to power with a clear majority in Lok Sabha in 2014, the party has launched an intense campaign to woo Dalits, backward communities and tribals. While nominating a Dalit for the post of President in 2017 (Ram Nath Kovind), this time, the party nominated Droupadi Murmu, who is all set to be the first tribal president after the July 18 presidential election.

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Sources said the party was aware of an increasing disquiet among Brahmin leaders over the community being allegedly ignored in the power-sharing formula — some of whom have publicly stated their displeasure. Dhankhar’s nomination, they said, was an attempt to placate communities other than Dalits and OBCs, sources said. The recent developments in Maharashtra, where Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin leader who enjoys proximity with the RSS leadership, had to give way to Shiv Sena rebel Eknath Shinde, has “disappointed” a crucial section of the Sangh, they said.

“The nomination of Dhankhar for the vice-president post may take care of such complaints for a while. Sangh leaders have been pointing out that the constant focus on the other communities could disappoint the upper castes, which form a significant and loyal support base for the BJP,” said party leader from Uttar Pradesh.

A senior BJP leader credited Dhankhar with having a “sharp legal mind”. “He has been assisting the party and the Sangh whenever legal assistance was required. He has helped the organisation to take up the right positioning in some of the key issues,” the leader added.

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Sources said Dhakhar’s tenure as Governor — which was marked by constant confrontation with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the TMC — pleased the RSS cadre too. In one of his letters to the Chief Minister, he had accused the TMC government of “minority appeasement”. When the state witnessed violence after the return of the TMC government in the 2021 polls, Dhankhar had once again locked horns with the state government, alleging that the post-poll violence witnessed by the state was the “worst since Independence”.

With the BJP lacking a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha, the party would need a person who is well-versed with the Constitution, rules, regulations and legislation. “Dhankhar has not only proved his administrative skills in the Raj Bhavan, he always cited the Constitution while taking a stand against the TMC government. He served as deputy minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the VP Singh government from 1989-1991. So he is not new to parliamentary rules,” said the party leader.

The leader added that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have always been “appreciative” of the stance Dhankar took in West Bengal. It was this approval from the top two leaders, combined with the political calculations that went into picking a Jat leader for the constitutional post ahead of the Rajasthan Assembly elections — the community constitutes around 15 per cent of the population in the state — that favoured Dhankhar’s candidacy.

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The BJP’s electoral calculations in Rajasthan, western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have always factored in the Jats.

First published on: 17-07-2022 at 03:36:55 pm
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